Race is a big part of my homeschool history teaching. I focus on race for 2 reasons:
- First, our brains are susceptible to us vs. them thinking.
- Knowing the history of atrocities committed in the name of race will help guard against those things happening again.
A few months ago, when racial tensions were highest in our country, I took my little kids and their 6-year-old best friend to the park. Their BFF just happens to be black.
I barely noticed when we passed a police car, but the best friend panicked. He slid down as far into his seat as he could.
Another time, a police officer passed our house while all the kids played outside together. My kids didn’t notice, but the best friend panicked again. He hid and asked me, “Please don’t tell them I’m here.”
It broke my heart to see a 6-year-old so aware of police presence in our neighborhood.
I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t my place to tell him that he was overreacting. I don’t know what his mom taught him to do around police, so that day, all I did was tell him, “It’s ok. I’ll keep you safe.”
Death, Taxes, and Bias
Our kids face racial tensions every day. And that’s nothing new.
Our brains are WIRED to work in an us vs. them pattern.
This bias is often the anchor in our minds that allows good people to be complicit or even active in the abuse of another person.
Propagandists attack this implicit bias to dehumanize marginalized groups. And it happens gradually so that we don’t even realize engaging with this information is shaping the way we feel about those groups.
When a leader aims toward genocide, clearly defining an “Us” and a “them” is the first step to desensitizing the public to future violence. Another step is to dehumanize that group by using terms like “animal,” “pests,” or “disease.”
I use history to teach my kids that even good people can succumb to this inherent bias. I want them to be vigilant for people who may use this bias to manipulate them, to convince them that someone deserves to suffer.
History and Race
Race and ethnicity have been an integral part of history since the beginning of man.
America likes to think we have risen above this.
We want to believe that because we are a “melting pot,” we can ignore race and its role in our history.
But that’s wrong because our history revolves around race.
And ignoring that leaves our history flat and without nuance.
That line “All men are created equal” is inspiring until we learn that those who wrote it didn’t consider black, Asian, indigenous, the poor, and women.
It hits different when we realize that the people who wrote that line enslaved people and wanted to keep poor people, women, and other races from voting.
Race and World War 2
Let’s talk about World War 2 for a moment.
The Nazis rounded up Jews and threw them in concentration camps to be starved, tortured, and murdered.
But even that is not the whole story. The Nazis also targeted Roma, gay and trans people, and disabled people.
In addition, they set up concentration camps in French North Africa through the puppet government at Vichy, where they imprisoned black people and other minority groups of the region.
And on the other side of the fight, America set up its own concentration camps. More than 100,000 Japanese Americans, over 70,000 were citizens, were forced into camps and had their land and other belongings taken. And they were given no legal representation for their sudden and unfounded loss of liberty.
Wow. But it gets worse.
Racism played a massive part in our armed forces.
First, the military was segregated until 1948.
And black soldiers were not offered protection under the GI Bill, which gave numerous benefits to white soldiers who made it home, like money for college and buying a house.
Then, while we recognized white soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice immediately, black soldiers had to wait decades for recognition for their extraordinary deeds.
Staff Sergeant Edward Carter
Staff Sergeant Edward Carter volunteered to join the white army when the numbers of front-line soldiers were low enough to be worrying.
In doing so, he lost the advanced rank that he held in the black army.
But that did not stop him from doing something unbelievable. When he spotted an ambush waiting for his battalion, Carter checked it out with a few fellow soldiers.
The ambush spotted them, and the Nazis killed his friends. Carter was severely wounded. But he waited for the Nazi soldiers to come and check the bodies.
When the enemy was close enough, he opened fire, killing all but 2 of the enemy combatants.
Then Carter took both of the remaining Nazis as prisoners, interrogating them in German, as he made his way back to Allied Forces. These prisoners related important information on placement and enemy troops ahead of Carter’s battalion, saving countless Allied soldiers.
The whole ordeal took several hours. And then, it took several decades for Carter’s wondrous deeds to be recognized by our nation. He didn’t receive his Medal of Honor until 1997, almost 50 years after the war and more than 30 since he had died.
In fact, no black people were given the Medal of Honor for WW1 and WW2 until the 1990s. Why, because they were black! So Carter was not an outlier. It was deliberate.
Race, History, and Homeschool
If you don’t study history, you are doomed to repeat it. Or at least that’s what they say.
But if you study watered-down history, you are still likely to repeat it.
When we rewrite our history books to skim over race-related history, we leave our kids vulnerable to manipulation, just like when we ban books.
We are denying them exposure to experiences that will build compassion and empathy within them.
Not Seeing Race
So why don’t I just teach my kids to be color-blind?
Well, I do, and I don’t.
When we play and are social, I teach my kids to treat everyone with equity. Notice, I didn’t say equally.
It equally implies that you will treat everyone the SAME. But that’s not quite right, is it?
For example, if my children play with a child in a wheelchair, I want them to consider their friend’s mobility issues. I want them to realize that it would be hurtful to suggest everyone go play on a climbing structure that would exclude the child in the wheelchair.
Equity means giving everyone the treatment they need, even if it’s slightly different from how we treat others.
And when it comes to teaching history, equity is only achieved when we realize that US and World history is actually racial history.
We have to honestly face the mistakes and cruelties of our direct ancestors. We have to admit when we benefit from the cruel deeds or systems they put in place. And we have to teach our kids to do the same.
Conclusion: Race and Homeschool
If we truly want to give everyone the safe space and freedom they deserve, we need to constantly be on the lookout for those who may prey on the vulnerable.
We all have to know how evil people gain power and maintain control. We have to know what others have suffered so we can stop it before it happens again.
What do you think? Leave me a comment.